Fixed gear bikes

track.jpgAbout a year ago my pal Chris special ordered a bike with no brakes, and one gear. It’s called a fixed gear or track bicycle. When I saw it in person, it was a work of art. It’s only contains enough to be called a bicycle, nothing more. They’re popular with bicycle enthusiasts and now punk rock crowd. KATU news in Portland has a neat story about them. The weather here in Seattle has been so amazing, I am thinking of getting one. Anyone have some suggestions? I guess it’s possible to make one too.

24 thoughts on “Fixed gear bikes

  1. track bikes… beautiful? Yes. Practical? No.

    If you live/ride anyplace with hills – or even the slightest of inclines – you will want gears. Trust me.

    If you live/ride anyplace where traffic is even a remote possibility – which is pretty much everyplace except a closed track – you will want brakes. Trust me, again.

    For all-around riding enjoyment and practicality, I would suggest getting a good, used hybrid or road frame and start putting components on it yourself…

  2. For brakes, you could get a pair of the shoes Tom Cruise used in Mission Impossible 2 when he hopped off a superbike and slided alongside, using the bike as a shield, then hopped back on. It would be quite a sight, Phillip rolling down a hill on a brakeless track bike with smoke pouring off his funky movie shoes.

  3. Just after reading this, I saw someone trucking up 25th Ave (here in Seattle) on a single-gear bike (didn’t see if he had brakes, but I have to assume so), and then saw an appropriate frame hanging up at Recycled Cycles. I agree with the poster above: gears are a fine invention for hills and brakes are a must.

  4. I switched to a single-speed (same as fixed-gear, but with a freewheel) several months ago, and I can’t see ever going back. You can see a picture of my bike here. You need brakes, obviously, or at least a good front brake, but hills aren’t a big deal at all (I live in Portland, and we have plenty of hills). I ride a 12-mile round-trip commute five days a week, and it’s perfect for a single-speed bike. It’s great not having to think about shifting, and knowing that the only way you’re going to be able to get anywhere is under your own, un-gear-assisted power.

    I looked around Portland for a bike, but we have a pretty big single-speed/fixed-gear community, so cheap used bikes are kind of hard to come by (i.e. lots of people want them, so they’re expensive), but I found mine (an old 80s road bike frame that had been converted) on eBay for about $80. A very similar bike from the same seller sold for $40, so it’s easy to get started on the cheap. And even that Bianchi you show in the post is only around $400.

    I’ve been bike commuting for several years now, and I can honestly say switching to a single-speed was the very best decision I ever made. It’s just pure fun, and it’s one of those things where once you try it, you’ll never want to go back.

  5. Oh and just one more thing, a single-speed bike with a freewheel let’s you coast, but you’ve still just got the one gear. With a fixed-gear, the pedals are turning whenever the wheels are, which can be kind of fun. For the best of both worlds, you can get what’s called a “flip-flop” hub for your rear wheel, which has a freewheel on one side and a a fixed gear on the other. If you want to go from fixed to freewheel you just, well, flip the wheel over. This is a really informative site by Sheldon Brown, kind of the king of single-speed bikes. It’ll tell you all you need to know.

  6. Phillip,

    (Try this again!)

    Pretty cool. I ran across single-speed bikes on the Web a couple a months ago. So I did some more searching, and found out that it’s a very avid community, all over the world. I loved my Spyder bike with it’s banana seat, then my ten-speed (oh, happy day, when I was old enough, and got it as a present), then my 15-speed mountain bike (nice to negotiate the hills in Morgantown, WV with) I got as a starving college student. After reading these articles, though, I haveta admit that I’m intrigued enough to maybe re-engineer one of my bikes into a single speed. We’ll see if that goes… The Sheldon Brown site mentioned is a good one. You might also try: http://www.paleolife.com/index1.htm. These guys are pretty serious about single speed/fixed gear stuff. Another trend people here may be interested in: “tall bikes.” These are mutated works of art that take cycling to a new level. Literally. Try: http://tallbike.net/, or http://fools-errant.com/~ebeth/bike/, for example. One of my friends also made one. Why? Er, uh… I dunno. But, it IS a cool hack…

  7. I had a fixed gear bike for several years and have been thinking of going back to a fixed gear bike. Not for the faint of heart, these bikes are for those who care to develop a smooth spin. A good cyclist can handle a track bike on the road, but I would suggest adding brakes for safety. Are they practical? Yes. If you care to condition yourself to riding one.

  8. rubic – The 508 is not for the faint of heart, even more so on a (brakeless?) fixed-gear bike. Possible (and possibly enjoyable) for the experienced ultracyclist, but I’d think that is a rather long short for the casual rider. It’s kind of like saying that a bare feed marathon may be fun. Yes, olympic marathons have been won without shoes, and bare feet running has its merits, but neither the marathon nor bare feet running is the holy grail of running :-)
    I agree with mediarosa – If you’re riding in an area where unexpected things are prone to happen (traffic, stray dogs, children, …), add brakes.

  9. I ride a fixxie absolutely everywhere. I disagree with mpower, these bikes are extremely practical. In snowy conditions they cut through tire treads left in the slush, maintenance is simple, and they’re light to boot. I’m riding a 54x11t gear (which may be too large for some people) I’d recommend a 48x12t to start. I ride with one brake, had a serious accident where I caved in some poor guys trunk with my knee when my cleat shattered under heavy braking. Practice lots before hitting any heavy traffic! The lessons you’ll learn on this type of bike have great ramifications on any other type of cycling you try (road, mtn bike or unicycling). Getting compliments for your track stands can be fun too.

    Check out Bike Cult NYC for some beautiful specimins! http://www.bikecult.com/works/

    I highly recommend building your own fixxie or modding a geared bike. Costs next to nothing and you learn lots about how the bikes work.

  10. I always have a front brake on my fixed bikes. A rear brake is unnecessary because most of your braking on a normal bike (75%+) is from your front brake. Also on a fixed gear bike you can apply back pedal pressure, similar riding a unicycle.

    I actually have a brake on one of my unicycles for descents that are long (multi-mile) or very steep. Though not strictly necessary, they make the ride more enjoyable.

  11. I’ve been doing it for a while now in NYC traffic. A front brake makes it a whole lot easier—mainly since it lets you keep up with the automotive flow. If you rely on skid-stopping you really have to keep your speed down. The fixed gear conversion itself is a simple and enjoyable project which I recommend to everyone with an extra bicycle lying around. Take a look at the impressive Fixed Gear Gallery site for ideas.

  12. Am I missing something or are these newfangled single-speed bikes basically same as the ones we rode as kids? Minus the bananna seats, the little clicky beads on the spokes, and the coaster brakes. And back then they cost about $50 from Sears.

    Not that it’s a bad idea. The simplicity appeals to me. I have a multi-gear bicycle now and I generally just leave it set and ignore the gears anyway, and I honestly miss coaster brakes.

  13. Did someone say fixedgear bike? I’ve been riding fixed for about ten years or so. It is addictive. The part of your mind that is usually concerned with what gear to be in is free to do other stuff like look around and enjoy the scenery.

    I am a geezer at 43 and I want to ride for at least another 43 years so a front brake is mandatory. I’m not a messenger or a massochist, just a regular bike rider who enjoys shifteng gears occasionaly but finds a challenge in a fixed gear century.

    Shledon Brown’s site has already been mentioned, but you might want to check out Fixed Gear Gallery for some inspiration. I’m numbers 64 and 916. Better pictures of both bikes are on Flickr.

    To the person who rides the Furnace Creek 508 on a fixie: My hat is off to you!

    This is perfect for a ‘Make” story, since an old thrift-shop lugged steel road bike with long horizontal dropouts and a freewheel (vs. a more modern cassette) can easily be converted to a fixie by adding a fifteen dollar track cog and some Loctite. Some ideas are here.

  14. Having no brakes is fine for the track, but not for riding the streets. It would be extremely dangerous unless you are going to ride _slow_ all the time. Depending on your speed, braking by pedaling backwards will slowly or quickly destroy your knees.

  15. Keep in mind that fixed gear bikes are still (and probably will remain) mostly a cult-like activity for bike enthusiasts. They are a acquired taste and demand a certain amount of skill and vigilance if ridden in the streets. And they tend to be more of a workout than a bike that can coast. Which may be a big consideration for a commuter. Going brakeless is risky for anyone outside a velodrome. A fixed gear bike should also use a proper “track” hub on the rear wheel, which takes a special reverse threaded lockring to keep the rear cog from spinning off. Anything less is a hack that might work, or might get you killed.

    Also, keep in mind that while having only one gear isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, having a fixed gear can be very difficult on hilly terrain. Not necessarily when going up hill, but when coming down.

    I think perhaps eightlines may be pulling our legs. 48x12t gearing is probably way too high for any bicycle with full sized wheels. I’d guess many road bikes and most mountain bikes don’t even have a gear that tall, being over 100 gear inches with normal road-bike-sized wheels. I’d say most fixed gear riders choose a gearing between 68 and 75 gear inches. Significantly lower.

    Single speed bikes (a bike with one gear that can coast), on the other hand, are very practical, particularly if you ride in a area with few big hills. The drivetrain is much simpler than that of a derailer multi-speed and less prone to problems. They offer less distractions while riding, less chance of a chain falling off or shifter going out of alignment. A coaster brake equipped bike can even match the spartan looks of a track bike and have the benefit of a real brake and comfort of coasting.

    My personal bike (a converted 70s ten speed found in my alley) is sometimes a fixed gear, but usually a single speed with a coaster brake on the rear and a front caliper brake. Lightweight, reliable, perfect if you just enjoy riding a bike places.

  16. as a portland fixed gear rider i gotta say that article is a trip. i don’t watch too much tv so i had no idea it had been on. it’s a pretty big scene here. you walk past a busy bike rack and you’ll see a range of fixies from loctite chunk jobs to proper track bikes. if i may pimp my own stuff: a friend and i do one of the fixed-gear zines mentioned in that article called the one speed revolution.

    as so many people are so quick to note, it is a bit sketchy riding in the city. you do have to be much more aware of what’s going on ahead of you but if you’re a strong rider you’ll have no problem with it.

    regarding brakes: i’m all for putting a brake on there, if only for the chance that your chain snaps. i had a buddy who went flying in to a truck that way (the after photo is on the cover of OSR#3).

  17. I know this thread is pretty dead, but I’d like to throw in my 2 cents anyway.

    I’ve ridden fixed gear while living in Pittsburgh, New York, and San Francisco, as well as some touring down the west coast with stops in Seattle and Portland. I’ve ridden some of that with a brake and some without, and I can say that brakeless is doable — enjoyable, even — in heavy traffic and even in a hilly city like Seattle or SF. SF in particular has a thriving fixie culture — sit at the corner of 16th and Valencia some Saturday night and watch all the kids on their track bikes go riding by, most of them without brakes. My only recommendation is that if you want to try brakeless, make sure to get a strong chain, cinch down your axle bolts hard, and practice stopping by pressing the sole of your shoe onto the top of your back wheel. Prepare yourself so you don’t have to worry about things breaking down — really, that should go for any kind of bike.

  18. Any of the posters saying that fixed gear bikes are not practical because you /need/ gears, /should/ have brakes, and so on probably either have not ridden a fixed gear, or have didn’t immediately fall in love (like all other fixed gear riders i know, including myself).

    Also, see the Mash video trailer. Fixed gear enthusiasts in San Fransisco. Talk about hills and cars: http://mashsf.com/

    I rode a bike with a freewheel the other day and almost fell off. “I can’t control this thing!” i was thinking. Of course after a bit it was fine, but it was so weird not feeling the delicate control you get riding fixed.

    I prefer it.

  19. There are a great number of statements on here about how impractical a fixed gear bicycle is. The first post says

    “If you live/ride anyplace with hills – or even the slightest of inclines – you will want gears. Trust me.”

    I only ask who is this person to be so knowledgeable and trusted. I live in San Luis Obispo california and if you have ever visited you know we have lots and lots of hills, some of them very steep. I ride fixed all over town, every day, up and down these hills and i love it. Sure, if you are just starting out riding fixed it may seem daunting, you may get tired going up or scared going down, but eventually you will get stronger, faster and more coordinated on a bike than anyone who rides a traditional road bike. Hills you once had to walk up, and which road bikers have to crawl up in their lowest gear you will be able to fly up.

    I ride fixed and i can honestly say that i can ride faster harder and longer than most road cycle enthusiasts i know. There is a reason that road racers train a couple of months on fixed gear bikes. It is because they need to retrain themselves how to pedal fast and hard. Fixed gear improves your strength, the suppleness of your muscles, your endurance and your cadence (how fast you can pedal).

    I am not the biggest buffest person you will meet (im 5’8″ and 130lb) but i ride 79 gear inches on some mean hills and never have anything but a blast and a good work out.

    People who knock fixed gear are afraid of being in good shape. Also in response to the first post, i ride brakeless and can stop and maneuver in traffic just as well as anyone on a road bike.

    if its not fixed its broken!!!!

    Fixed gear riding is pure pleasure.

  20. I did’t agree with much until I read Brians blog I ride cold, hot, hilly, and in traffic with no brakes. Start Out slow get to know the bike and then get after it.

  21. I just recently bought a bianchi pista after doing a lot of research on single speed/fixed gear bikes. I’ve been riding it for about a week now and I’ve already done quiet a few rides around town on it. It’s taken a little getting used to as far as feeling out how to skid stop and learning how to ride in traffic and all that. the bike came without any brakes (as it’s built for the track) and I intended on putting one on eventually (and I still might), but I’ve been doing fine without it so I think I may continue to do so. The main reason I might throw one on soon is cause I’m a college student so I don’t want to be buying a new tire every few weeks. other than that I would say take your time and get used to braking whether you have a front brake or not and wait until you feel comfortable on the bike before getting into any serious traffic. and be aware of where your riding before hand. cheers!

Comments are closed.

current: @adafruit - previous: MAKE, popular science, hackaday, engadget, fallon, braincraft ... howtoons, 2600...

View more articles by Phillip Torrone